Emergency debate sought over the future of St David’s Hall
Cardiff Liberal Democrat councillors are seeking an emergency council debate in the wake of what they say are “major concerns” about the future of the city’s St David’s Hall.
Cardiff Council is considering an approach from the Academy Music Group (AMG) to take over the venue and run it under their ‘Academy’ branding and model.
Liberal Democrat councillors have called an emergency meeting saying that they have failed to receive assurances from the Labour council that they will put forward a clear business case and allow a full, public consultation before taking a decision.
Many who work and regularly attend the concert fear the change in ownership could mean the loss of the hall’s status as a venue for classical music in the city.
A petition calling for the protection of St David’s Hall’s status as a venue for classical music in Cardiff reached more than 15,000 signatures.
But Cardiff Council have said that safeguarding jobs at St David’s Hall and retaining the venue’s status as the National Concert Hall of Wales is an “absolute imperative” under any proposal.
Councillor Jon Shimmin, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for culture, parks and events on Cardiff Council, said: “I failed to get clear answers from the Labour cabinet member at the November council meeting and was simply told I need to wait for a report going to the council’s December cabinet meeting.
“This has left everyone wondering why Labour councillors are being so secretive, and why they are failing to offer clear reassurances.
“We are hearing significant concerns about the deal being considered. This includes a worry that the number of days when the council could hire back the hall for cultural and classical events may be woefully short and that the acoustics of the hall, currently regarded as one of the best in the world, could be threatened by plans to remove seating from the stalls.
“This is of particular concern given that the hall is currently the home of the world’s foremost classical signing competition, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.
“Cardiff’s Liberal Democrat councillors are hugely concerned the council may be rushing to make a decision to change the ownership or management of the Hall without first ensuring that vital safeguards are being met.”
AMG is 51% owned by Live Nation which already operates the Cardiff International Arena and is also the council’s preferred business partner for the council’s planned new arena in Cardiff Bay.
In a full council meeting, Labour responded to the Lib Dems to say that they had not yet received a full report.
“The reason you haven’t seen the report yet is because it hasn’t come to cabinet, but it is coming to cabinet next month and we will be able to fully consider all the options on the table from that and then we will be able to bring those to you and consider the future operation of the national concert hall,” Cllr Burke-Davie.
But Councillor Rodney Berman, who has recently been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Cardiff Central at the next General Election, said that they were “deeply concerned these plans could amount to cultural vandalism”.
“From what we are hearing, there appears to be a serious risk to the cultural heritage of not just Cardiff but of Wales as a whole,” he said. “The council needs to come clean on what it intends and ensure full and meaningful public consultation on what these plans would mean.
“We know the council hasn’t currently got allocated funding to cover the Hall’s maintenance backlog, but surely all other avenues for securing this funding should be explored first.
“There’s money around for lots of other expensive capital projects – like proposed new bridges, the project currently underway to open up the canal in Churchill Way and the planned new arena in Cardiff Bay on which the council is poised to spend £27 million of its own funds – so maybe the council just needs to review its priorities.
“We are also concerned the Labour-run council may be rushing headlong into a deal with just one preferred partner without even considering an open tendering process.
“The council not only needs to make the case for the merits of its plan, but also needs to explain why it’s potentially handing over so much control over Cardiff’s venues to AMG/Live Nation.”
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